The Purpose of Education

Education is one of the most unscientific human endeavors. You do well in school to get into a good college and earn a good degree. A good degree is supposed to be a passport to a good job. Based on your educational qualifications, you can climb to a reasonably high position without having to demonstrate any exceptional ability.

Beyond that, however, you may have problems. There is no established link between your performance in school and your performance in a job. Even more importantly, there is no link between your performance on the job and your performance in life.

Many of us have an advantage – our parents envision our future for us, driving us to work towards achieving this vision. However, this is not as common among the poor. The education system has to step in to help everyone create this vision, and to build even the poor child’s confidence to pursue the vision.

Balaji Sampath, who runs Eureka Child – an NGO committed to improving literacy and math ability in government schools, told us a touching story in this context. Coming back from the US to do something meaningful in education, he immersed himself in local issues by spending a few months in a village. He was in a village classroom when a child asked the teacher whether it was possible to travel to the moon. “You and I cannot fly to the moon,” the teacher answered. “But scientists in the U.S. can…” We must stop robbing our children of goals and dreams.

Our education system places undue emphasis on providing answers – often to questions that children do not have. In other words, too often we teach children concepts without context; we need to show them why learning is important. We need to focus on awakening kids’ natural curiosity and teaching them to love learning. A good way to do this is to place children in natural experiences or in games where they can ask questions. In these settings, learning is immediate and strong. Learning can be a structured discovery process, offering students varied learning outcomes – just as our situations and decisions later in life offering different outcomes.

For example, an NGO in Mumbai went to schools with an experiment to teach students about water conservation. The pupils measured the amount of water consumed while brushing their teeth with the tap open, and then again with the tap off. Imagine, if we all learn this type of lesson in school, how we can apply the principles to so many other aspects of our home and work later in life.

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